Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A plea for peace: Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal states his case with visceral performance works

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 4:03 PM

The galleries at Davidson College have a tradition of bringing notable, sometimes difficult art to Charlotte audiences. This week, an exhibition that upholds that tradition opens in the college’s Van Every Gallery.

Wafaa Bilal was born in Iraq and is a naturalized citizen of the United States. In his often grueling, performance-based work, he takes both cultures to task for allowing fears, assumptions and noxious stereotypes to obstruct the path to peaceful conflict resolution. Among other things, he addresses the way people are desensitized by video games that present fantasy as fact and how depersonalization is essential to prosecuting war.

click to enlarge Wafaa Bilal, "Domestic Tension" (photo courtesy of the artist)
  • Wafaa Bilal, "Domestic Tension" (photo courtesy of the artist)

Bilal’s Davidson exhibition includes recreations of two live performances. In “Domestic Tension,” Bilal was confined to a gallery where people could interact with him via chat and webcam 24 hours a day. Over a period of one month, his website received more than 80 million hits. People also had the option of shooting him with paintballs, and shoot they did — more than 65,000 times. “and Counting,” is an ongoing project in which Bilal will be tattooed with 5,000 red dots to represent members of the US military who have died in the war in Iraq and 100,000 green dots, visible only under black light, to represent Iraqi casualties. There will be additional programming on Bilal and his work throughout the run of the exhibition.

click to enlarge Wafaa Bilal, "and Counting" (Photograph by Brad Farwell, courtesy the artist)
  • Wafaa Bilal, "and Counting" (Photograph by Brad Farwell, courtesy the artist)

Despite his subject matter, Bilal strives to skirt controversy and instead promote discussion. As a result, he has racked up coverage and praise from mainstream outlets such National Public Radio, which recently did an in-depth feature on him, Newsweek and the Chicago Tribune and exhibited in Baghdad, the Netherlands, Thailand, Croatia and numerous U.S. venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum. He currently teaches in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Bilal will present a lecture in the Semans Lecture Hall, Thursday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m., to be followed by a gallery reception.

The Smith Gallery will feature a sort of homecoming for former Charlotte artist Darren Goins, who decamped to New York earlier this year. Casual Language: A Mixed Emoticon, will feature all-new work that encompasses silkscreen, neon and drawings rendered with old CAD software. (Goins has endured some ribbing for his attachment to vintage CAD, but it really fits his aesthetic.)

Goins will discuss this work, which was commissioned specifically for the exhibition, Friday, Oct. 15, at 12:45 p.m., in the gallery.

Both exhibitions run through December 8. The Van Every/Smith Galleries and Semans Lecture Hall are located in the Belk Visual Arts Center, 315 North Main Street, Davidson. Admission is free. Info: Brad Thomas, brthomas@davidson.edu or 704-894-2519.

— Barbara Schreiber

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